After getting a taste in January, mobile bettors in New York are ready to feast when it comes to wagering for the upcoming NFL season.
The launch of mobile wagering during the first full weekend of January coincided with the final weekend of the 2021 NFL season, with four operators taking wagers. Fast forward nearly eight months, and all nine operators licensed by the New York State Gaming Commission are accepting bets as the NFL returns to the Empire State gambling space as a colossus without equal in sport.
NY Online Gambling previously conducted a thought exercise on the state’s projected NCAA Tournament handle for the first March Madness with mobile wagering. In revisiting that concept on a bigger scale for the first two months of the NFL season, NYOG projects that mobile sports wagering handle on NFL games — independent of parlay wagering — should reach at least $1.1 billion.
There are multiple points to remember when trying to project NFL handle in the Empire State. The first is that New Yorkers have three NFL rooting interests: the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, and New York Giants.
This is important because the states used in this exercise — New Jersey, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, and Illinois — all have at least one NFL team. New Jersey has two teams that play in the state, and the Jets and Giants being located the proverbial stone’s throw from New York City in East Rutherford affects both states by virtue of population density in that specific region.
Having the three teams means the percentage of NFL handle versus the overall handle has the potential to skew higher in New York. The lack of a dominant FBS college football program in the region also increases the likelihood that the actual percentage will be higher than the one used to determine the expected potential handle.
A second point is that New York does not have any wagering history to offer for a potential projection. Yes, there is the Week 17 sample from bets the mobile operators took at the end of last season, but recall that those games took place during the first two days digital wagering was available in the state, and with only four operators taking bets.
The playoffs are a different animal with an entirely different set of variables — more live wagering, more television viewership, the Bills participating — that prevent any sort of meaningful extrapolation. Additionally, the 2022 postseason was crammed with so much excitement on nearly a play-by-play basis that it could wind up being an outlier.
The third point is that the NFL’s embrace of legalized wagering is now in its second season. In 2021, operators were downright giddy about telling the betting public they were official league partners or approved sportsbook operators. Six of New York’s nine mobile operators are official NFL partners, with only Resorts World, Bally Bet, and Bet Rivers lacking the power of the shield.
This season figures to be different in terms of grabbing the public’s attention, mainly because operators already have that. They are pulling back on advertising spend through traditional media, but still to be determined is the amount of promotional credits awarded. New bettors may get some offers similar to the January launch, but other promotions — most notably Caesars Sportsbook matching initial deposits up to $3,000 — are not coming back anytime soon.
Methodology used to estimate NFL handle
The biggest challenge in projecting NFL handle is the information the New York State Gaming Commission does not provide — handle and revenue by specific sport. This means looking elsewhere to find states that report sport-specific handle, and New Jersey, Nevada, Illinois, Colorado, and Indiana all do so. The five have consistently ranked in the top 10 for national handle on a monthly basis throughout 2022 and, more importantly, all five have an NFL team.
Colorado provides NFL-specific handle in its reports, the most valuable piece of information available. It allows the opportunity to create a ratio of NFL handle to overall football handle and to determine the percentage of NFL handle to overall wagering handle from 2021.
Last September, the NFL-to-college handle ratio was 2.68-to-1, and the gap widened in October to 3.29-to-1. That was not surprising given October had five NFL Sundays to September’s three, something that will also take place this year. The September and October ratios averaged out to roughly 3-to-1, which allows the assumption that 75% of the total football handle in New Jersey, Nevada, Illinois, and Indiana was NFL-based wagering.
|State||September Football Handle||Projected September NFL Handle*||October Football Handle||Projected October NFL Handle*||Total Football Handle||Projected NFL Handle*|
*Colorado figures include actual NFL handle
The big impact of the NFL’s sports wagering deals
It’s long been known that the NFL is the primary driver of sports wagering in the United States. The deals that made FanDuel, DraftKings, and Caesars the league’s official partners, plus made PointsBet, WynnBET, BetMGM, and FOX Bet approved sportsbook operators, merely cemented the notion.
What it also did was help create a tremendous spike in handle from August to September, and then again from September to October. In the five states used in this exercise, overall handle surged from $1.9 billion in August to $3.2 billion in September, a rise of 64.4%. It climbed another 32.9% to $4.2 billion for October.
Here, though, is where the degree of difficulty in making this projection increases on multiple fronts. There is no like-for-like comparisons to last year for New York’s handle — the $17.4 million handle generated by the state’s four retail commercial sportsbooks last September was barely 20% of FanDuel’s $83.7 million in wagers accepted for the week of Aug. 22-28.
Four of the five states have furnished July figures and none have published full official August numbers. This matters because using year-over-year numbers from July helps forecast projected state-by-state handle growth in August. That contributes to projecting similar forecasts for September and October, which then creates the ability to assign percentages of football handle to overall handle, and then the more granular percentage of NFL handle to overall football handle.
Thus, the July handle for Illinois is a projection with an assumed identical year-over-year drop in handle. The $486.9 million handle, however, is very likely a low-end estimate given how close Illinois has come to overtaking New Jersey for second nationally in handle each of the previous two months. Added together, the five states will have generated $1.9 billion in handle for the month, a 9.8% year-over-year increase.
Additionally, the August handle for New York is projected to be $869.8 million based on figures provided by the NYSGC covering Aug. 1-28 and taking the daily average for the final three days of the month.
|State||July Handle||Projected Overall August Handle||Projected Overall September Handle||Projected Overall October Handle|
|*-Denotes projected handle|
In reviewing these numbers, New Jersey had a year-over-year decline for its July handle and created a small drag on projected handle spinning forward. The Garden State also provides the biggest variable in this whole exercise.
New Jersey was largely unaffected by New York’s launch in January, evidenced by its record $1.35 billion handle to kick off 2022. But will the combination of Manhattanites not crossing the Hudson, coupled with the volume of NFL games in which those bettors will be making wagers in New York instead of New Jersey, actually create that previously projected drag in handle?
Furthermore, any sort of unexpected early-season success the Jets and Giants may have could drive New York’s handle higher. Not that there are lofty expectations for either team, but Bills Mafia can only do so much rooting for their AFC East favorites after performing the prerequisite table slams.
In particular, October looks to be a huge month for wagering upstate, as Buffalo faces Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Green Bay. The latter two games will have national audiences — the Bills take on the Chiefs in a late-afternoon tilt on Oct. 16, and then face the Packers on Sunday Night Football on Oct. 30.
Finally, the projections
After crunching all the numbers, the last thing to do was assign a percentage to New York’s football handle within its overall handle, and then apply the 75% of that football handle that is expected to be NFL-based wagering. Three estimates were created based on the percentage of football handle to overall handle in the five states used, which ranged from 33.5% in Colorado to 64.5% in Nevada.
Nevada is an expected outlier of sorts given multiple sportsbooks are offering high-stakes handicapping contests with multimillion-dollar prizes. One estimate used the average of all five states, one estimate came with the lowest average eliminated, and one estimate had the highest taken out.
The estimated NFL handle for New York in September and October ranges from slightly more than $946 million to approximately $1.14 billion, with the belief that it will project closer to the ceiling and surpass $1 billion. The low estimate assumed football handle being 37.9% of total handle, the average 43.2%, and the high 45.6%.
|Month||Projected overall handle||Projected NFL handle with football 37.9% of overall handle||Projected NFL handle with football 43.2% of overall handle||Projected NFL handle with football 45.6% of overall handle|
Amid all the number crunching, there is confidence the actual number will surpass $1.1 billion. It would surprise no one if both September and October overall handles are notably higher than what is projected, with the latter ranging near $2 billion with five weekends of football to spur action. There is also the knock-on effect of parlay wagering, which may lead some bettors to make straight wagers to hedge against those bundled picks.
Another wild card is in-game wagering. It is becoming a larger focal point for operators, and with an increased marketplace of offerings and faster turnaround times, the potential to create handle churn off bettors’ winnings grows.
Of course, there are some factors that could cause these estimates to overshoot the mark, mainly revolving around continuing economic headwinds when it comes to inflation and a potential recession. Sports wagering should be done responsibly and with discretionary income, and if the betting public has less of that due to a challenging economy, there simply may not be as much wagering.
Additionally, and this one seems unlikely, there may be betting fatigue. There are only so many wagers you can make on any given Sunday. The seemingly limitless amount of information available for wagering on NFL games — from “experts” offering picks on social media to defensive adjusted value over average (DVOA) stats to watching “All 22” game footage — can create paralysis by analysis. To this end, there is sometimes the belief that the best wager is the one not made.
But with the Empire State on the verge of becoming the fifth state to reach $10 billion in overall handle and the NFL creating excitement like no other league on a weekly basis, it feels unwise to bet against New Yorkers continuing to overdeliver when it comes to placing wagers.
Photo: Mark Kozenzy/USA TODAY